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Zimbabwe's looming food emergency

Concern's team on the ground is reporting a severe deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. This is being exacerbated by several outbreaks of cholera in the country, which is a direct consequence of a severe lack of clean water and adequate sanitation.

In recent weeks, Concern’s staff have seen a virtual collapse in all public services. With the economy in near meltdown and inflation rampant, food shortages are likely to lead to an emergency situation in the country in the first quarter of 2009. 

It is estimated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization that Zimbabwe only has 17% of the maize seed needed for this season, and only 2.6% of its fertiliser. Recent wheat harvests were only 10% of the country’s requirements. So, there is a huge food deficit expected in 2009.

Crisis situation

“The political situation in the country is stealing the international headlines,” explains Mark Harper, Concern’s Assistant Country Director for Programmes in Zimbabwe, “but this media focus is also masking the very real humanitarian crisis situation – and one which is likely to worsen considerably in the coming months.”

Rations

Concern started food distributions in three districts back in October, one month earlier than most other humanitarian agencies. A full monthly per-person ration was given to 250,000 people, comprising 12kg maize, 1.8kg pulses and 600g of oil. The number of people seeking food rations will increase significantly through December and into March, necessitating a reduction in ration sizes.

Rising tension

“The situation is critical,” says Harper, “as it is the United Nations who sources the food, and their stocks will run out by January.” This is already leading to some tension on the ground. “At Concern distributions there have been a number of incidents, which is line with increasing lawlessness and desperation for food.” 

One meal a day

Harper reports that in the Gokwe district people are currently surviving on one meal per day and on wild foods.

“Food distributions are going to 60% of people in Gokwe, those who are categorised as the ‘very poor’. Yet, even the other 40% – who are rated as in varying degrees of poverty – have very little food in their homes,” he adds.

Against this difficult background, Concern is continuing to focus on improving the livelihoods of the most vulnerable people. Concern has also helped communities rehabilitate and dig boreholes and wells and is trying to advance its HIV and AIDS programmes in the country.

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